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Crosby, Stills & Nash look backwards and forwards

Crosby, Stills & Nash’s performance at Place des Arts Tuesday, July 22 brings more music and less politics to the stage than their 2006 Freedom of Speech tour with Neil Young, which bitterly divided critics and audiences over its focus on the Iraq War.

Renowned for its three-hour marathon shows, the group tested the limits of its unity and stamina during the tour – choosing to include large chunks of Young’s Living With War album, noted for its single Let’s Impeach the President – and drawing the ire of many fans. The turmoil is captured in the tour’s documentary CSNY: Déjà Vu, slated for theatrical release in 15 cities the weekend after their Montreal show, with a simultaneous video-on-demand release and streaming video via Netflix. The DVD comes just in time for November elections in the US.

Premiering to mostly positive reviews in January at Sundance, the film features ex-ABC News Iraq reporter Mike Cerre “embedded” on the tour bus and showcases both sides of the critical reaction, including one infamous judgment that “the huddled sixty somethings look like they’re comparing prescriptions on stage.” Besides strong lyrical content, the tour featured backdrops of war scenes, casualty counts and clips of the Bush administration’s finer moments. Reception in some cities, particularly Atlanta, was openly hostile. The strain on the foursome’s solidarity, and the resulting internal political struggle, is documented cinema-verité style in moments backstage. Produced by Young, the film was judged by one critic as “not so much the chronicle of a newsworthy tour as a committed political artist’s sincere attempt to get to grips with an America whose mood seems to have changed utterly since the band’s debut.”

The current tour, minus Young, picks up some elements from 2006 and introduces new ones, notably sharing one microphone on some acoustic numbers for the first time. “It screams of how much we’re getting it on together,” Nash said in a recent interview. “Instead of our sound man trying to blend three sources, we’re doing it ourselves. It’s not easy to sing so close to each other. But it sounds great.”

A feature of the 2006 tour sure to be repeated is its compelling example of eco-responsibility. Pioneering the modernization of the notoriously messy touring business, they achieved a zero carbon footprint by using 100% biodiesel for the entire convoy of vehicles and offsetting 100% of the tour’s greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing and permanently retiring credits from the Chicago Climate Exchange – a “registry, reduction, and trading system” similar to the Montreal Climate Exchange, that allows emitters to “neutralize” their carbon footprints through large-scale sustainability projects.

Reviews of the current tour have been favourable, often commenting on the trio’s newly trim physiques and lauding their unabated vocal form, impressive musicianship and wise musical choices. Setlists are partly chosen by fans – the group has been soliciting requests online for upcoming shows at – and Nash has found “some surprises” from this, noting “we’re doing about four or five suggestions of stuff we haven’t done in years.”

Special VIP seats are still available online through two charity beneficiaries of the tour, the Guacamole Fund and World Hunger Year.

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